A new mobile app recently launched by the Aruba Tourism Authority (ATA) is helping to enhance the visitor experience in Aruba by serving as a free, interactive travel guide. The Official Aruba Travel Guide app was created based on award-winning research conducted by the Dick Pope Sr. Institute for Tourism Studies (DPI) at the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida.

Through an extensive survey of Aruban visitors and potential visitors, the study revealed that a mobile travel guide app, with specific capabilities, would overwhelmingly be accepted by Aruban tourists.

“Roughly 87% of those surveyed expressed that a smartphone app would most definitely improve their travel experience,” said Dr. Manuel Rivera, who co-led the research project. “We also found that tourists were looking for specific features that would not only make the app functional, but also practical in today’s digital age.”

The Official Aruba Travel Guide app, available through iTunes and Google Play, operates offline, which allows Aruban visitors to access many of the app’s features without connecting to the internet and being subsequently charged a roaming fee by their wireless carrier. Some of the offline capabilities include: maps and navigation tools; ratings and reviews for the top attractions, restaurants, bars, hotels and shops; customized itineraries based on the user’s travel interests and trip dates; access to coupons and vouchers; and an augmented reality function, which displays pop-up factoids about a particular place or business simply by focusing the user’s mobile device camera on a specific location.

The virtual travel guide also consists of online, interactive features that allow users to share their own reviews, as well as their photos with various social networks. According to Dr. Rivera, the interactive features serve a dual purpose: helping tourists enhance their travel experience, while also promoting Aruban tourism and businesses through the app’s social networking functions.

“Social networking acts as word-of-mouth marketing, so if a user shares their vacation photos through the app, then people within their social network, who see those photos, might be enticed to come to Aruba to have a similar experience,” said Dr. Rivera. “The flipside is that the original app user may not have otherwise discovered all of their travel experiences in Aruba if it weren’t for the app. So the app really serves a dual purpose.”

According to Rayon Koolman, digital marketer for the Aruba Tourism Authority, no data has been collected yet regarding the app’s impact on Aruban tourism; however, the app has already generated nearly 10,000 downloads since its summer 2012 launch.

“We have no real figures or indicators on the impact the app has had on tourism yet, but we have received a lot of positive feedback,” said Koolman. “The research that Dr. Rivera and his team conducted proved to be very useful in the development of the app.”

Dr. Rivera, Dr. Robertico Croes and Yun Ying Zhong were recognized earlier this year for their involvement in the app, as their research article Developing Mobile Tourism Services For A Destination: The Case Of Aruba won the Best Paper award at the 17th annual Graduate Education and Graduate Student Research Conference in Hospitality and Tourism.

Research for the app is part of an ongoing partnership between the Dick Pope Sr. Institute for Tourism Studies and the Aruba Tourism Authority to strategically enhance Aruba’s tourism industry.